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  • Kristin Bundesen, PhD

Historical evidence, corsets, and fatherhood

Musings on Season 2 episode 1. Pondering takes time - and I am not known for speed. If you want a synopsis of the episode or a recap, please see the many other fine sites. But, don't look for that here.

The episode title, Through a Glass Darkly, gives permission to detangle the many themes and markers. While the show, and more so the books upon which it is based, is loudly touted as being from a female perspective, fatherhood is a major thread in this episode. 

The first part of this return from Droughtlander uses clothes and sound to reestablish our connection with the characters, the time travel, and story context.  We see Claire tromping down a paved road in her 18th century highland clothes. A car pulls up behind her and now we know there's no possibility we aren't in the 20th century. The sound editing takes us to Frank Randall's heels clicking in the hospital hallways, arriving at her bed side, but coming into her consciousness through his reflection in a window - the not-very-dark glass.

As Claire re-enters the 20th century, the TV adaptation makes more of gendered difference than the book it is based on - at least in this opening episode. Frank spends a great deal of time holding, investigating, researching, and looking at Claire's corset - the very definition of female restriction in both the physical and metaphorical sense. The object is foreign to him and is evidence of something he does not want to accept. Despite its significance, and apparent financial value in the 1940s, Frank burns it to erase its symbolism of something he is meant to revere as a professional historian. As an historian myself, I am not sure I could bring myself to burn historical material evidence. The burning reveals that Frank's commitment to his profession is less important than his inability to admit the possibility of time travel. The corset is the archival evidence proving the premise of Claire's story as true.

Despite Frank's refusal to fully accept the notion of time travel, surely a wet dream for most historians including me,  Claire's pregnancy forces Frank to accept that something happened.  The biological evidence outweighs the historical evidence for him. 

There are few interesting fatherhood bits here.  

  • Black Jack Randall is the paternal ancestor of Frank Randall.

  • Black Jack's violence shows up in Frank as he destroys the potting shed. The difference is that Frank's violence is not directed at a specific person while Black Jack is a sadist of a very special bent. 

  • Wee Roger, the adopted child of Reverend Wakefield has taken to calling the reverend father. The reverend has decided to accept this title.

  • Reverend Wakefield's attempts to draw Frank into a faith-based acceptance of fatherhood brings up the notion of God as the supreme father. Frank rejects this notion under the guise of rationalism.

  • While Frank tries to deny historical evidence, Claire plunges into the historical record to find out if Jamie Fraser, the father of her unborn child, lived through the battle of Culloden.

  • Frank requires Claire to agree to return to the marriage and raise her unborn child as Frank's child.  In the show version, Frank already knows that he is sterile so this will become his only child.  It's a neat mirror of Wee Roger's relationship with Reverend Wakefield.

Once the episode leaves the 20th century, the fatherhood strands are less in evidence but there is indication that Jamie Fraser is trying to pull himself together, recover from, the trauma at the close of last season, because he will be a father. Claire has also given them a mission to change the future.  

The 18th century fatherhood bits include Jamie and Claire lying to Jamie's god-father Murtagh, and the plan to meet with Bonnie Prince Charlie who himself is separated from his father King James.

Quite a masculine perspective for what is called a feminist show. 

[Originally published April 26, 2016: episode 201]

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